Pubdate: Fri, 23 Jun 2006
Source: Morning Sun (Mt. Pleasant, MI)
Copyright: 2006 Morning Sun
Author: Eric Baerren
Note: Eric Baerren is the Sun news editor. His columns appear Fridays.
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Marijuana and Driving)
Bookmark: (Drug Test)
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Crime Policy - United States)


This week, the state Supreme Court handed down one of those rulings
that makes you shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, it makes no sense,
but it's hardly surprising."

Under the ruling, motorists found to have a chemical byproduct of
smoking marijuana can be arrested and charged with driving while

What's the beef, you say? Simple, the byproduct lingers in the body
long after the effects of the marijuana have worn off. Thanks to this
week's ruling, you don't actually need to be intoxicated to be
convicted of driving while intoxicated. All that's necessary is that
you were intoxicated at a recent enough point that it could be picked
up by a drug test.

The practical impact is that it is no longer necessary to gather
evidence specific to the crime, just evidence of a crime that is
related. It's like searching a murder scene, finding a recently fired
pistol and concluding without further investigation that the smoking
gun must indeed by the weapon.

It's the "well, he's certainly guilty of something" standard.

It is desirable to keep our streets safe. It should be a much bigger
priority to make sure that people are guilty of those crimes they are
accused; but it's no longer especially shocking to see terrible
precedents set in the name of safety and security.

This particular precedent comes to us as part of our war on drugs,
declared by Nixon back in the early '70s and which continues unabated
to this day.

The chief reason why it continues today is that the war on drugs has
been a losing proposition from the get-go. Let's face reality. After
all is said and done, we haven't really done much to end drug use or
trafficking, and if you really want them they aren't hard to find.
That, my friends, is the very definition of failure.

There is a good reason for that. Human appetite is much stronger than
any human institution. If people want drugs, they will get drugs. This
has been a truism throughout human history. Supply-and-demand has a
much greater influence on the drug market than does police

Every year, we're subjected to meaningless arrest and conviction
statistics. But, like citing body count statistics while fighting an
insurgency, it's a false measure of success meant to make it look like
something is being done. What would be an accurate measuring stick?
Well, perhaps this - a study a couple of years ago found that high
school kids had an easier time finding marijuana than they did alcohol
and cigarettes, both of which are legal (at the right age) but highly
regulated. The kids involved could still get beer and cigarettes,
which ought to tell you something.

So, what has 30 years of the drug war given us? Mostly just a massive
prison population. Among the state's various agencies, the Department
of Corrections is one of the biggest employers and the budget to run
the prisons is bigger than the budget to run the state's universities.
It's the kind of thing that makes you question where our real
priorities lay.

Nationally, the war on drugs siphons off resources we could better
allocate to, say, better securing our ports or maybe even rebuilding
New Orleans (heck, while we're dreaming how about rebuilding
Detroit?). And, it was barely weeks after Sept. 11 that Attorney
General John Ashcroft had FBI agents bringing the mighty boot of
justice down on co-ops in California that were furnishing marijuana
cigarettes to the terminally ill.

While on the topic of terrorism and drugs, let's not forget the
short-lived advertising campaign that tied drug use and terrorism
together (strangely, there was silence on the links between terrorism
and oil; and also the diamond industry and terrorism). Smoke a joint,
bomb a bus in Israel, the ads hilariously said. If you want your kids
to take seriously drugs, linking marijuana they know came from rural
Clare County to Hamas isn't the way. Common sense, too, has been a
casualty of the war on drugs.

And, it's not just a waste of money or government resources.

A couple of years ago, a teenager in Washington state got nervous
about the marijuana plants his father was growing. So, he turned
snitch and his dad went to prison. Regrettable, the local police
department said, but the boy did the right thing. Loyalty to state
over loyalty to family - they used to erect statues in honor of this
kind of heroism in the Soviet Union.

Here's the standard disclaimer - no responsible adult endorses drug
use. That said, there's also something to be said about engaging real
problems with real solutions. Who knows what was going through the
heads of the four justices who said it's okay to convict people
without real evidence of guilt.

Do they really think this was such a smart idea, that this kind of
thing won't lead to arbitrary enforcement of laws and the conviction
of people who weren't actually guilty in the first place? If so, and
this is really how we're fighting our war on drugs, I have a question:

What's the penalty for desertion?
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